Cinnamon, Diabetes, and New Opportunities for Clinical Trial Research

Dr Rajadurai Akilen and his team of researchers at the Imperial College London recently published the results of their clinical trial, an interventional (meaning a study in which only some of the patients were administered the drug under investigation) study examining the effects of cinnamon on blood pressure and blood sugar in patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. The results of the study were published in the Journal Diabetic Medicine and follow Dr. Akilen’s earlier paper published in the same journal in 2009, which provided evidence of cinnamon’s potential role in reducing blood sugar as deduced by a meta-analysis of results from 5 different clinical trials.

In this double-blind (which means that both the doctor and the patient don’t know who is getting what treatment- see below for more details), placebo-controlled trial (one groups gets a placebo and the other gets the cinnamon)  58 patients were randomly (meaning no particular order) assigned to receive either two grams of cinnamon a day or a placebo for twelve weeks. Those in the cinnamon group (aka the intervention group) saw statistically significant reductions in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, while the placebo group had no significant change in blood pressure and saw an increase in blood sugar levels by the end of the study.

These results add to a growing body of literature on cinnamon’s potential benefits for diabetes patients, but not all of these studies have yielded significant or similar results. For example, a meta-analysis published in the medical journal Diabetes Care in 2008 failed to find any significant health benefits for cinnamon in 282 patients across 5 trials (contrary to the findings of the meta-analysis and Dr. Akilen’s recent paper). Hence, the recent results found by the researchers at the Imperial College London must be replicated before the medical community can definitively say that cinnamon may be efficacious for patients with diabetes.

While I am thrilled to see this type of research being conducted abroad, I am frustrated by the dearth of such research in the US. “Holistic” or “homeopathic” treatments, such as cinnamon for diabetes, magnesium/calcium supplements for depression, or aloe vera for ulcerative colitis (to name a few) retain a marginalized status as potential palliative interventions, either alone or in conjunction with standard of care treatments. This forces many patients, often frustrated by the side effects or inefficacy of such treatments, to do their own research about what may bring relief. In addition, many patients erroneously feel that they do not have to disclose the natural supplements that they are taking to their doctors, believing that “natural” means “safe.” And since virtually no standardized clinical research is being conducted in the U.S. on such supplements, many physicians are unaware not of only of the treatments themselves, but also any potential side effects or harmful interactions with other medications.

Holistic treatments can and should be put to the test with clinical trials that are just as rigorous as those that we use for new drugs. It is encouraging to see that at-least some forms of alternative treatments such as yoga and acupuncture are being investigated in rigorous clinical trials in order to assess their effectiveness (see earlier post on List of Clinical Trials of Yoga and List of Clinical Trials investigating Acupuncture). We have an opportunity to explore their efficacy and potentially bring significant relief to many patients, particularly those that may not be able to afford standard of care pharmaceutical interventions. We do our patients a disservice by not having a complete picture of what treatments could potentially be beneficial, even or harmful, to them.

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